Nearly 100 people attended the Project Mosaic Annual Lecture in London on October 4, 2012. They came to hear a discussion on "Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Moving Beyond Old and New Hatreds After 9/11" by two speakers, Anthony Julius and Fiyaz Mughal OBE.
Anthony Julius, the author of Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, guided the audience through events dating back to the Middle Ages and that continue to fuel prejudice towards Jews today. He described ancient roots of so-called jokes about the "cheap Jew". During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church banned Chrisians from lending money at interest. Jews, meanwhile, were barred from owning land and from working in most professions. The result: Jews became money lenders, taking on work forbidden to the majority, and, over the centuries, many moved into banking.
Anthony's 811-page book describes the expulson of the Jews from England by King Edward I in 1290, which made England the first country in Europe to expel its Jews. Many European countries followed suit, expelling their Jews in the 1300s and 1400s. Jews were not allowed to return to England for some 350 years, until the mid-1600s.
When plagues ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages, Jews, who were forced to live in communities separate from Christians, were sometimes blamed and massacred by villagers. In Strasbourg in 1348, 900 Jews were burned alive after being accused of poisoning wells. Jews did not earn full rights as citizens in many Western European countries until the 1800s and in some Eastern European countries until the early 1900s.
Participants at the Project Mosaic event heard how Anthony, while studying years ago at Cambridge University, received an anonymous leaflet through his door that said Jews killed Christian children and used their blood to make matzah for Passover. Anthony described this "blood libel" as another often-repeated falsehood about Jews dating back centuries. He said the ancient myth that Jews preyed with hateful and murderous intent on non-Jewish children resulted, to the present day, in poisoning certain discourse. He said, for instance, it helped to create toxic confusion regarding the confict in the Middle East, when Israeli soldiers were falsely accused by some of seeking to harm Palestinian children.
Fiyaz Mugal, the founder of Faith Matters, a nonprofit that challenges extremism and builds bridges between Muslm, Sikh, Christian and Jewish communities in the UK, said that Muslims stood to gain by learning from the experience of Jews.
He said Faith Matters had spent the last year recording reports of anti-Muslim incidents and attacks, much in the same way as has been done over the past decade by the organisation Community Security Trust regarding anti-Semitic events and attacks.
Fiyaz said an alarming number of physical assaults on Muslims and Sikhs in the UK had been recorded, with most attacks being carried out by non-Muslim men against Muslim women who were wearing a headscarf and, in some cases, also a "niqab" face veil.
Fiyaz was asked what could be done to stop cycles of hatred between Muslims and non-Muslims that had accelerated since September 11, 2001, when self-described Islamists hijacked four commercial planes in the United States and crashed them into the World Trade Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC and a field in Pennylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people. Fiyaz said religious leaders had a huge responsibility to raise their voices in condemning extremism and terrorism. He said that many Muslims had become more proactive over the past 10 years in speaking out against such violence, but that a lot more work was needed in order to inform and educate people about the dangers of prejudice and extremist violence.
He said Muslims in the UK could learn valuable lessons from Jews, as members of a minority religion, about way to integrate into mainstream society while also maintaining a distinct religious and/or cultural identity. Fiyaz said that Muslims and other minorities had benefited from long-running work done by many Jews to combat racism and prejudice, work which had been informed from the experience of centuries of persecution.
He said he expected things to get worse before they got better, when asked how to prevent the kind of ethnic violence that broke out in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in September 2012. Much of the violence was described as a reaction to an amateur film published on the Internet and that reportedly set out to denigrate Islam. Fiyaz urged religious leaders and also ordinary citizens to speak out aganst prejudice aimed at any group.